Wednesday, May 26
by Beverly Gherman
Chronicle Books 2010
A well-told and nicely-presented biography of the man who created the most loved comic strip of the 20th century.
Reading this biography of Charles Schulz I found myself feeling as if I knew most of this story from previous sources. I knew about his first published drawing being in a Ripley's Believe It Or Not panel, about his early drawing exercises, about the real names behind the characters names. Here and there I found a tidbit I wasn't as clear about – that he won a Reuben award for his Peanuts strip, yes, but not that he actually accepted the award from its namesake Rube Goldberg – and the occasional detail that might have been shielded from my younger eyes in the past (divorce and remarriage weren't the kinds of things that used to be in biographies for children).
This time, amid the narrative that gambols casually through time and not always 100% linearly, what I was most struck with was how incredibly lucky Schulz life had been. I'm not saying he didn't have talent or skills, but for as socially awkward as he was and for as insecure he never really had to suffer. He had his early years in the wilderness immediately following his career in the Army after WWII, but when he landed his first syndicated cartoon strip, it was Peanuts and he spent the next fifty years doing it. After those first ten years he produced a Christmas special that became an iconic tradition. Second probably to Mickey Mouse, Snoopy may be the the most identifiable character the world over, and the man never had a full studio or a theme park to make it happen.
It seems impossible that Schulz could have walked any other path in his life, that he was called to do this one thing and he nailed it. He didn't dream any of it, so he can't be said to have followed the usual "do what you love" sort of thinking we often impress upon children that leads them to long for stardom. He had a talent, he knew the job, he sat down and executed it the best he could.
This message isn't overtly stated, and I'm not sure how much that is by design. I think that biographies ought to strive to present information in a way that allows the reader to draw conclusions while providing a clear picture of the individual being portrayed. Gherman does that here, and while there are probably few young readers who know the comic strip but might know the TV specials, this book could provide a perfect introduction to the man and invite further investigation.